Food industry needs technical personnel to manage day to day floor level operations, quality control and new product and process development programs. The extent of employment of qualified food technology graduates by the industry depends on the financial strength of the manufacturers, production capacity and product mix. As there are no rules that industry must employ food technology graduates, at least to ensure safety of products manufactured by them, most processing units opt for unqualified, under-qualified and mis-qualified personnel who cost them considerably less in terms of financial compensation. Take the case of India where food industry produces a diverse mix of products including those based on fruits, vegetables, spices, cereals, oil seeds, meat and poultry and fisheries resources. Indian exports of food are mostly unprocessed or minimally processed with least value addition and no worth while attempts are being made to deploy sophisticated global technology and competent technical personnel to upgrade these products to international standards. Multinational food companies, however do deploy modern tools of production including qualified food technologists in sufficient numbers and dominate the food processing landscape with very few native players who can stand shoulder to shoulder with the former.
It is unfortunate that graduates coming out of Indian food tech institutions are mostly "absorbed" by the multinational companies where stream lined technologies are used with very little challenge to the skills and capabilities of the trained personnel sent out from some of the institutions. Probably what these graduates were able to learn in their course have very little relevance in the industry they join and the employers retrain these graduates according to their specific needs. Where challenge is there, that is in the small scale industries, adequate financial incentives are not available creating a Catch 22 situation. Most of the units are forced to look out for low paid operating personnel who do not have adequate comprehension about various facets of food processing. Under such an environment will it ever be possible for the main stream food industry in India to stand tall and be counted? Neither the MFPI nor the UGC nor the AICTE seems to be too much concerned about the situation which is being perpetuated during the last 6 decades. How can any one justify the operation of a particular food processing industry working from Bangalore and famous for its brand name, with more than Rs 5 billion annual turn over and 3000 employees on its role "managing" during the last two decades without employing evening a single food technologist graduate? If one goes by the profitability of this company, India can as well close down all food technology teaching shops with no adverse consequences!
It is the anarchic safety administrating system that is responsible for the above situation. Though millions of tons of processed foods are marketed and exported year after year, wide scale food adulteration and low quality foods dominate the market as the monitoring and deterrent system is very weak providing a free field for products manufactured under unsatisfactory conditions and unsupervised by expert personnel. Probably no data exist to day regarding the need for technical personnel by the industry and even norms for employing by the industry are not laid down. If a pharma unit can function only if there is a pharmacist, why not same norms be applicable to food industry? If such norms exist it would have been possible to estimate the personnel needs of this industry and accordingly streamline the training programs. For any food industry manufacturing products of diverse nature there is absolute need for technically qualified personnel in at least 3 areas, viz production management, quality control and equipment maintenance. Most units manage with "mestries", cooks, low paid mechanics to ensure production of food products which may or may not be up to the mark but usually their strength is derived from their ability to turn out tasty and lower priced products. As the country's food safety enforcement regime is lax, most of them get away without being "noticed".
The food technology training programs in India are mostly in Universities and more or less they were copied mostly from British programs. The three original training programs in Mumbai, Kolkatta and Kanpur existing before the country got independence from Britishers were helped and influenced by similar programs in the UK but over a period of time the teaching contents were modified to keep abreast of new developments. Some of the agri-varsities which pioneered food specialization for the agricultural graduates also contributed to the food technologists pool though they were less preferred by the industry. Then came the explosive growth of traditional colleges offering programs in food science, food technology, food and nutrition etc at the degree level though finding jobs for these graduates became difficult due to unbalanced course content and practically no exposure to real time food processing facilities lacked by these institutions. As these colleges have practically no linkage with user industries, their graduates are not often absorbed by the latter.
One of the critical questions raised about the competence of these "teaching shops" to train personnel is the complete lack of even simple and basic facilities that are essential to get the necessary experience and exposure to actual food processing for the students. Added to this is the less than satisfactory competence of the teaching staff, most of whom do not have the required background to teach the subjects keeping in view the dynamic changes taking place at the global level. Look at the IITs in the country which can boast of global standards because of enormous investments made by GOI on the teaching and research infrastructure and involvement of internationally recognized teaching staff. Why this is not happening in the food technology training institutions is a big mystery. Even the three oldest food tech teaching set ups in the country in Mumbai, Kolkatta and Kanpur do not have high quality laboratories and practical processing facilities compared to those in other countries. What about linkage to the industry? Absolutely none!
Here comes the role of established foreign institutions in some of the developed countries like the US, Canada,the EU, Australia and New Zealand where excellent facilities exist for imparting training in all facets of food processing, preservation and packing. A recent example of technological partnership between countries is that between Singapore and New Zealand (NZ). The Massey University in NZ and Singapore Polytechnic (SP) collaborated to turn out graduates in Food Technology with international standards. Similar to a twinning program, while the students complete their 3 year diploma in SP, another two years are spent with Massey University center at Singapore itself to turn out a "finished product" with high competence. What is needed in India is such types of cooperation and the country must invite foreign Universities of repute to set up their Centers for complimenting the training efforts of the country. Only then the food industry can take more graduates inti its fold with some sense of confidence. Ideally it can be a three way collaboration, the third partner being the industry. A role model for such global cooperation is the International School of Milling Technology set up at Mysore the partners there being the industry association, GOI and the Milling School in Switzerland. But for the massive milling facilities and the expert assistance provided by Swiss partner, India would not have been able to produce more than 500 millers who are working all over the world to day.
There is an urgent need to study the needs of the food industry in India for technical personnel and arrive at a consensus as to the type and level of personnel for various functions, their required background, norms for employing trained personnel, minimum salary package, retraining needs and a system of refresher courses to update knowledge base periodically. Earlier this is done, better it will be for the industry and the country.